Archive for the ‘Pre Blues’ Category

Author: Howard W. Odum


The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 24, No. 93 (Jul. – Sep., 1911), pp. 255-294 (part I)

The Journal of American Folk-lore, VoL. 24. No. 94 (Oct.-Dec., 1911), pp. 351-396 (continued)


Howard W. Odum was not only a pioneering Amercian sociologist, but also one of the first scholars to take notice of the rich repertory of African-Amercian secular songs.

Read the articles :



Author: Louise Rand Bascom

Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 22, No. 84, Apr. – Jun., 1909


The first written record of the legend of John Henry.

Read the article HERE

The following broadside, from the Guy Benton Johnson Papers, represents what is thought to be the oldest printed version of the ballad of John Henry. A note that accompanies the broadside reads:

“This is a copy of the oldest known printed form of the John Henry ballad. It was obtained in 1927 by Dr. Guy B. Johnson from Mrs. C.L. Lynn of Rome, Georgia, who said ‘It is very old and has been in our family for many years’. This copy appears in Dr. Johnson’s book, John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend, which was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1929.”


Author: Natalie Curtis Burlin

Some early studies on Negro folk song have received very little attention. One of them is the work produced by Natalie Curtis Burlin (1875-1921): Negro Folk-Songs, 1918. Natalie Curtis Burlin was an American ethnomusicologist who dedicated most of her efforts to the study of the native American folk, but was later in life also fascinated with African American music. She strove to record, not change, the music she heard, noting in the foreword to the first volume: “These notations of Negro folk-songs are faithful efforts to place on paper an exact record of the old traditional plantation songs as sung by Negroes… . I have added nothing and I have striven to omit nothing.” 


Author: Louis Pendleton

Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 3, No. 10 (Jul. – Sep., 1890), pp. 201-207

“I HAVE no doubt that in the Southern States have existed many unprinted negro animal myths, similar to those contained in the collection of Mr. Joel Chandler Harris. That the latter were current among the negroes of the South, and were by them related to the children of both races even as late as several years after the war, I know from personal experience.

Some of Uncle Remus’s tales, when I first read them, were already as familiar to me as the commonest  nursery stories. Some of them, on the other hand, were changed almost beyond recognition, clearly showing that with difference of locality may be found a corresponding difference in what must originally have been the same myth.”


Author: Marshall W. Stearns
Source: The Library of Congress, Collection of the Archive of Folk Song, LP59


Liner notes to the LP59 in the series:Collections of the Archive of Folk Song.

Marshall Winslow Stearns (1908-1966) was an American jazz critic and musicologist. He was the founder of the Institute of Jazz Studies.

Read them HERE


Notes on Negro Music

Posted: June 12, 2012 in Charles Peabody, Pre Blues

Author: Charles Peabody
Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 16, No. 62 (Jul. – Sep., 1903), pp. 148-152

In the textbooks on the origin of the blues, the story of W.C. Handy hearing an African-American play the guitar in the Tutwiler station , supposedly in 1903,  is a classic narrative.

Less known is the 1901 story of Harvard archaeologist Charles Peabody who conducted a seven-week excavation season at the plantations in Clarksdale and in Oliver, and who described the singing of the African-Americans he hired.

The observation that his transcription of these songs in his  ‘Notes on Negro music’ (1903) was published before his archaeological findings (1904) illustrates the profound effect that his worker’s chants must have had on him.

This could be an earlier example of proto- or early blues.

You can read the 1903 article HERE

Some further information is on this site :


Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson



Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a fervent member of New England’s abolitionist movement, and an active participant in the Underground Railroad.

When the Civil War broke out, he was the perfect candidate to head the first regiment of emancipated slaves, and in 1862, he was commissioned as a colonel for the troops training in the Sea Islands off the coast of the Carolinas.

“Army Life in a Black Regiment”  is Higginson’s amazing and invaluable account of his wartime experiences. The narrative ranges from reports on daily life to a detailed description of the author’s near escape from cannon fire to sketches that conjure up the beauty and mystery of the Sea Islands.

For all those eager on learning the history of black cultural life, the book, originally published 1869, is precious as a first hand account of the life of former slaves. It also provides a separate chapter on Negro Spirituals.